The Chinese claim that Guilin in Southern China has “the finest landscape under heaven”, and the staggering scenery of the Li River China has inspired centuries of Chinese landscape paintings and poems.
The best way to immerse yourself in this natural beauty is to take a Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. As you take this China river cruise, you gently glide past an endless backdrop of spectacular karst mountains, shrouded in mist.
Where to get the Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo
The Li river cruise Guilin sets off from Zhujiang Wharf, about a 45-minute drive from central Guilin.
The Guilin to Yangshuo cruise meanders 83 kilometres down the river passing incredible karst mountain scenery along the way.
There is an option to do a shorter route, from Yangdi to Xingping. Read more below.
How long is the Guilin to Yangshuo river cruise?
The whole Li River cruise Guilin to Yangshuo takes around 4 – 5 hours, but the views are so spectacular that you won’t notice it take that long.
If you are visiting Guilin with kids though, I would ensure that you have plenty of entertainment for them – I’m pretty sure that one beautiful karst mountain looks much like another to them, and even water buffalo lose their appeal after you’ve seen a few.
We took plenty of colouring and sticker books for them to keep them occupied so that we could relax and enjoy the scenery without any whinging from them!
Yangdi to Xingping
The most striking section of the Guilin to Yangshuo boat ride is from Yangdi to Xingping. This is about half way along the Li river tour.
As it is renowned as being the prettiest part of the Li River cruise to Yangshuo, it is consequently the busiest section of the river.
Given that this is the most popular section of one of the most popular Asian river cruises, you can get an idea of how many people there will be here!
We heard the other boats before we saw them: our large Guilin Yangshuo tour boat was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of motorized ‘bamboo’ rafts. (The Li river bamboo rafts are built in the traditional style but using plastic pipes instead of bamboo).
If your kids are older or you are traveling without kids, taking a Li river rafting tour of this section is a great option – they look far more fun than the big cruisers!
This way you could take a private boat and also allow yourself more time to explore elsewhere in the region. There is a popular Li River hiking route around here too.
Unfortunately my kids are only two and four, and the concept of my two-year old sitting still in a chair for two hours is unthinkable.
For this reason, the big river boat from Guilin to Yangshuo was perfect for us. Each boat holds around 100 passengers and has air-conditioned interiors, with viewing decks on the roof and at the back, and plenty of room to walk around.
Bamboo Rafting the Yulong River
Yulong River bamboo rafting is a great add-on to your cruise along the Li River Yangshuo. This Yangshuo River is a small tributary of the great Li River and bamboo rafting along here is one of the most popular things to do in Yangshuo.
With older kids, you could join a longer bamboo rafting Yangshuo trip that takes 4-6 hours.
Given that we had just got off a four-hour boat trip between Guilin and Yangshuo with a 2-year old and 4-year old, we opted for a leisurely 45-minute trip down one section of the Yulong.
Each bamboo raft holds just two passengers, and your ‘gondolier’ will do all the hard work so you can sit back and enjoy. Unlike the motorized rafts we saw on the Li River in Guilin, these are very peaceful and it is a very relaxing experience.
The bamboo rafts float gently down the river, giving you plenty of time to take in the scenery of the surrounding Yangshuo mountains.
There are a few mini waterfalls to negotiate, but this just adds to the fun, and we never felt unsafe in our rafts. Be sure to buy some water guns from the hawker women at the launch site to add to the fun!
You can cycle through the countryside to reach the bamboo rafting launch site, but be aware that you first need to navigate the city traffic to do so.
Tips for the Li River Guilin Cruise
- Do not forget your camera as you will want to take photos at every turn in the river
- Ask someone on the boat to let you know when the ‘money shot’ is coming. This is the section at Xingping that features on the Chinese 20 Yuan note. Make sure you have a 20 Yuan note in your pocket so you can get this fun shot!
- The food on the cruise was pretty terrible. I would suggest raiding your hotel buffet at breakfast for the kids’ lunch and bringing plenty of snacks!
The Best Yangshuo Hotels
Once you get to Yangshuo, you are sure to want to stay around for a while to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Here are our picks of the best hotels in Yangshuo.
Yangshuo Mountain Retreat
This Yangshuo hotel is ideally located on the banks of the river and is recommended by many as one of the top hotels in Yangshuo. Giving you the best of both worlds, it combines a simple eco lodge with some added touches of luxury and comfort. This Yangshuo hotel is popular with both families and couples.
Rooms are furnished with locally made traditional furniture and have no TV or telephone. There is however Wi-Fi throughout and the riverside restaurant serves both local and western cuisine and even has a pizza oven. Family rooms are available.
Banyan Tree Yangshuo
This beautiful Yangshuo resort is where to stay in Yangshuo if you are looking for a luxury hotel but with traditional surroundings. Facilities here include a swimming pool, gym and spa, two restaurants and two bars.
The Banyan Tree Yangshuo suites and villas are beautifully decorated, and many benefit from stunning views of the river and mountains. The two-bedroom villa would be best suited to families.
Giggling Tree Yangshuo
If you are looking at where to stay in Yangshuo on a budget, definitely check out the Giggling Tree. You will find this family-friendly Yangshuo guesthouse 5km from Yangshuo.
Authentic farmhouses have been transformed into 24 comfortable guest rooms, including large family rooms. Facilities include an outdoor pool, bike rental and a restaurant. Guests love it for it cozy and friendly home-away-from-home feel.
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